DVD Release Date:  October 5, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  June 11, 2010
Rating:  PG (for bullying, martial arts action violence and some language)
Genre:  Action, Drama, Family, Remake
Run Time:  140 min.
Director:  Harald Zwart
Actors:  Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Wenwen Han, Rongguang Yu, Zhensu Wu, Zhiheng Wang, Zhenwel Wang, Jared Minns, Luke Carberry, Cameron Hillman

In case you hadn't noticed, apparently, it's ‘80s revival week at the box office.

Despite having common roots in the "Decade of Excess," the way The A-Team and The Karate Kid pay homage to the era of big hair and frosted jeans actually couldn't be more different. While it's the TV show's more campier moments that are violently played up in The A-Team, the screenwriters charged with rebooting The Karate Kid stick with a faithful, almost scene-by-scene remake of the 1984 film that made Ralph Macchio and the expression "wax on, wax off" household names.

Mind you, considering that it's kung fu rather than actual karate that takes center stage this time around, calling the movie The Karate Kid is still a bit of a misnomer. But I'm guessing the film's marketing department unanimously agreed that Kung Fu Kid simply didn't have the same ring.

That detail withstanding, there's surprisingly plenty of kick left in the familiar story of cross-generational friendship and that fighting, never-give-up spirit that often separates the heroes from the cowardly. And thanks to fantastic chemistry between the two leads played by Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, The Karate Kid is more of a pleasant surprise than the eye roll-inducing effort I was expecting.

As the new kid in Beijing when his Mom (Taraji P. Henson) gets a new job (an exotic twist from the original Jersey to California scenario, no?), Jaden brings that much-needed vulnerability to the role of Dre, just your average pre-teen (well, except for those rapper-chic cornrows) from Detroit who's not adjusting well to his new circumstances. Often resembling his famous father with a potent mix of sheer likeability and confident swagger, Jaden's got a few new acting tricks up his sleeve, too, which should serve him well if he continues in the family business.

Mirroring the course of its popular predecessor, you already know the drill: Dre's new peers don't exactly welcome him with open arms at school, and given that he's living in Beijing, there's a pretty significant language barrier to boot. If that wasn't already enough to contend with, regular bullying has now figured into the equation.

But after a particularly brutal beat-down, Dre's situation starts improving when a quiet apartment caretaker named Mr. Han (Chan) comes to his rescue—a surprise considering he hardly looks the part of a kung fu master. Eventually offering to teach him everything he knows, (a process that combines strength and inner focus), Mr. Han and Dre form an unlikely friendship that's redemptive for both parties since Dre doesn't have a father in his life, and Mr. Han tragically lost his own family years before.

And of course, The Karate Kid wouldn't be The Karate Kid without a love story in the mix (Dre and Meiying, who is played by Wenwen Han definitely have the cute thing down) and that big, dramatic showdown at the end. Sadly, in terms of pacing, it takes a loooong, loooong time for The Karate Kid to really kick into gear, and trust me, the 140-minute running time could've easily been trimmed to 90 minutes tops. But long-winded or not, the storyline still has resonance and delivers in the end, even though 26 years have passed.


At my particular screening, the audience was thoroughly engaged and rooting for its hero every step of the way (case in point: one lady sitting nearby injected a regular "Go get ‘em" during every fight scene). And that universal appeal, not to mention memorable acting turns from the leads, makes The Karate Kid one of the brighter highlights in a dull, sequel-heavy summer.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.

  • Language/Profanity:  God's name is improperly referenced a couple of times. There's also one instance of "dam---" and a couple of uses of "as-." Mr. Hans encourages Dre not to use that latter, but Dre slips up once more.

  • Sex/Nudity:  For a movie geared at families, using Flo Rida's "Low" is an odd choice of soundtrack considering the song includes references to strippers sliding down the pole. Then later on when Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" is playing, Meiying's dancing is a little too suggestive considering she's so young.

  • Violence:  There's quite a bit of fighting throughout (not a huge surprise considering it's The Karate Kid) that involves punching and kicking. Several of the matches in the kung fu championship are particularly brutal. While en route to the final match with his arch nemesis Cheng, Dre gets beaten up pretty badly. At one point, Cheng is encouraged to break Dre's leg with no mercy.

  • Spirituality:  Unlike the original where there were passing references to Buddha, spirituality plays a more central role in Dre's kung fu training in Karate Kid. Mr. Han teaches that in order to be successful, you have to tap into the concept of "chi," which he says is the "essence of life" and eternal energy." Fleshing that out, he says that "chi" moves inside our bodies and gives us power from within—like the Force from Star Wars. To connect more fully with those energies, Dre is encouraged to "empty his mind."
     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.